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Dunleavy provides a spark, again, for Milwaukee

During slumps and lackadaisical spurts, Milwaukee Bucks coach Jim Boylan looks at his bench, knowing one player will always temper his fears.

Jesuit High grad Mike Dunleavy Jr. entered Saturday's game against the Trail Blazers as an early candidate for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award, and his homecoming performance only helped perpetuate his candidacy for that honor.

The 6-foot-9 forward finished with 14 points and five rebounds off the bench in the Bucks' 110-104 win at the Rose Garden.

“He's been unbelievable, our most consistent player all year,” Boylan said. “When things aren't going well, to look down and see Mike on the bench ... you throw him in there and he's been productive almost every single night.”

Dunleavy's contributions on Saturday were exactly what Boylan has come to expect from his 32-year-old Duke product from Jesuit High.

Dunleavy played 29 minutes, knocked down three 3-pointers and locked down on defense, which helped Milwaukee stave off several Portland rallies in the second half.

“One of the things I can do is knock down shots, and my teammates did a good job of finding me,” he said.

Before Saturday's game, Dunleavy was Milwaukee's No. 3 scorer at 11.5 points a game, while shooting .454 from the field, .432 from 3-point range and .820 from the foul line.

“He's been having a sensational year and contributing mightily to all aspects of our game,” Boylan said. “It's not just offense or scoring. Mike's a good distributor, he moves the ball around, he knows how to play the game and he's been an excellent rebounder.

“He's helped us in a lot of ways.”

And Dunleavy, who's in his 11th NBA season and first with the Bucks, has made the most of his supporting role.

“Coming off the bench, I try to provide energy, a spark,” he said. “We have a pretty solid bench, a group of guys that play well when they're in there. So (my role is) to be a part of that group and provide a guy that can space the floor for Brandon (Jennings) and Monta (Ellis).”

On Saturday, Dunleavy returned to Portland, where he helped lead Jesuit to a state title in 1999, his senior year. And his friends who showed up got to see an impressive show.

“I like getting back here,” he said. “I get to see a lot of friends and familiar faces. I spent a lot of time at the Rose Garden, so it's always nice to be back.”

Dunleavy's father, Mike Dunleavy Sr., coached the Blazers from 1997 to 2001.

The younger Dunleavy plays the game like the son of a coach. And for Boylan, that's been invaluable.

“He makes his teammates better,” Boylan said. “And when you have someone like that on the floor, it's comforting for a coach.

“Mike's a smart player. He sees the plays happening. He's in the right spot. He's encouraging his teammates. And on this road trip, he's been really, really clutch.”

Saturday marked Milwaukee's final game of a four-game, West Coast trip. The Bucks went 3-1, and Dunleavy averaged just under 14 points during that stretch. He made the game-winning 3-pointer against Phoenix on Thursday.

The Bucks occupy the Western Conference's final playoff spot with half the season remaining. But Milwaukee is 5-2 after breaking a four-game losing streak, and its clutch man off the bench seems to be finding his groove.

“With so many games in a season, you get in a good rhythm,” Dunleavy said. “You get comfortable with your teammates, and this is about the time of year when that starts to happen. I'm feeling good out there, and hopefully I can keep playing well.”